20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes

321 comments

I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward. If there’s one thing I am grateful for — and it sure isn’t the pay — it’s that my work has allowed endless time to hone my craft to Louis Skolnick levels of grammar geekery.

As someone who slings red ink for a living, let me tell you: grammar is an ultra-micro component in the larger picture; it lies somewhere in the final steps of the editing trail; and as such it’s an overrated quasi-irrelevancy in the creative process, perpetuated into importance primarily by bitter nerds who accumulate tweed jackets and crippling inferiority complexes. But experience has also taught me that readers, for better or worse, will approach your work with a jaundiced eye and an itch to judge. While your grammar shouldn’t be a reflection of your creative powers or writing abilities, let’s face it — it usually is.

Below are 20 common grammar mistakes I see routinely, not only in editorial queries and submissions, but in print: in HR manuals, blogs, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and even best selling novels. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve made each of these mistakes a hundred times, and I know some of the best authors in history have lived to see these very toadstools appear in print. Let's hope you can learn from some of their more famous mistakes.

Who and Whom

This one opens a big can of worms. “Who” is a subjective — or nominative — pronoun, along with "he," "she," "it," "we," and "they." It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with "him," "her," "it", "us," and "them." It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence. When in doubt, substitute “who” with the subjective pronouns “he” or “she,” e.g., Who loves you? cf., He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns “him” or “her.” e.g., I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him.

Which and That

This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring.  e.g., I don’t trust fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. Here, I’m referring to all non-organic fruits or vegetables. In other words, I only trust fruits and vegetables that are organic. “Which” introduces a relative clause. It allows qualifiers that may not be essential. e.g., I recommend you eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. In this case, you don’t have to go to a specific grocery store to obtain organic fruits and vegetables. “Which” qualifies, “that” restricts. “Which” is more ambiguous however, and by virtue of its meaning is flexible enough to be used in many restrictive clauses. e.g., The house, which is burning, is mine. e.g., The house that is burning is mine.

Lay and Lie

This is the crown jewel of all grammatical errors. “Lay” is a transitive verb. It requires a direct subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is “lay” (e.g., I lay the pencil on the table) and its past tense is “laid” (e.g., Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table). “Lie” is an intransitive verb. It needs no object. Its present tense is “lie” (e.g., The Andes mountains lie between Chile and Argentina) and its past tense is “lay” (e.g., The man lay waiting for an ambulance). The most common mistake occurs when the writer uses the past tense of the transitive “lay” (e.g., I laid on the bed) when he/she actually means the intransitive past tense of “lie" (e.g., I lay on the bed).

Moot

Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion. e.g., The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.

Continual and Continuous

They’re similar, but there’s a difference. “Continual” means something that's always occurring, with obvious lapses in time. “Continuous” means something continues without any stops or gaps in between. e.g., The continual music next door made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking prevented him from concentrating.

Envy and Jealousy

The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, often present in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons over your good-looking friend.

Nor

“Nor” expresses a negative condition. It literally means "and not." You’re obligated to use the “nor” form if your sentence expresses a negative and follows it with another negative condition. “Neither the men nor the women were drunk” is a correct sentence because “nor” expresses that the women held the same negative condition as the men. The old rule is that “nor” typically follows “neither,” and “or” follows “either.” However, if neither “either” nor “neither” is used in a sentence, you should use “nor” to express a second negative, as long as the second negative is a verb. If the second negative is a noun, adjective, or adverb, you would use “or,” because the initial negative transfers to all conditions. e.g., He won’t eat broccoli or asparagus. The negative condition expressing the first noun (broccoli) is also used for the second (asparagus).

May and Might

“May” implies a possibility. “Might” implies far more uncertainty. “You may get drunk if you have two shots in ten minutes” implies a real possibility of drunkenness. “You might get a ticket if you operate a tug boat while drunk” implies a possibility that is far more remote. Someone who says “I may have more wine” could mean he/she doesn't want more wine right now, or that he/she “might” not want any at all. Given the speaker’s indecision on the matter, “might” would be correct.

Whether and If 

Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if." It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.

Fewer and Less

“Less” is reserved for hypothetical quantities. “Few” and “fewer” are for things you can quantify. e.g., The firm has fewer than ten employees. e.g., The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.

Farther and Further

The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract lengths you can't always measure. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The financial crisis caused further implications.

Since and Because

“Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to causation. e.g., Since I quit drinking I’ve married and had two children. e.g., Because I quit drinking I no longer wake up in my own vomit.

Disinterested and Uninterested

Contrary to popular usage, these words aren’t synonymous. A “disinterested” person is someone who’s impartial. For example, a hedge fund manager might take interest in a headline regarding the performance of a popular stock, even if he's never invested in it. He’s “disinterested,” i.e., he doesn’t seek to gain financially from the transaction he’s witnessed. Judges and referees are supposed to be "disinterested." If the sentence you’re using implies someone who couldn't care less, chances are you’ll want to use “uninterested.”

Anxious

Unless you’re frightened of them, you shouldn’t say you’re “anxious to see your friends.” You’re actually “eager,” or "excited." To be “anxious” implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to something.

Different Than and Different From

This is a tough one. Words like “rather” and “faster” are comparative adjectives, and are used to show comparison with the preposition “than,” (e.g., greater than, less than, faster than, rather than). The adjective “different” is used to draw distinction. So, when “different” is followed by a  preposition, it should be “from,” similar to “separate from,” “distinct from,” or “away from.” e.g., My living situation in New York was different from home. There are rare cases where “different than” is appropriate, if “than” operates as a conjunction. e.g., Development is different in New York than in Los Angeles. When in doubt, use “different from.”

Bring and Take

In order to employ proper usage of “bring” or “take,” the writer must know whether the object is being moved toward or away from the subject. If it is toward, use “bring.” If it is away, use “take.” Your spouse may tell you to “take your clothes to the cleaners.” The owner of the dry cleaners would say “bring your clothes to the cleaners.”

Impactful

It isn't a word. "Impact" can be used as a noun (e.g., The impact of the crash was severe) or a transitive verb (e.g., The crash impacted my ability to walk or hold a job). "Impactful" is a made-up buzzword, colligated by the modern marketing industry in their endless attempts to decode the innumerable nuances of human behavior into a string of mindless metrics. Seriously, stop saying this.

Affect and Effect

Here’s a trick to help you remember: “Affect” is almost always a verb (e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans), and “effect” is almost always a noun (e.g., Facebook's effects can also be positive). “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression — to cause hence, an effect. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are some exceptions. “Effect” may be used as a transitive verb, which means to bring about or make happen. e.g., My new computer effected a much-needed transition from magazines to Web porn. There are similarly rare examples where “affect” can be a noun. e.g., His lack of affect made him seem like a shallow person.

Irony and Coincidence

Too many people claim something is the former when they actually mean the latter. For example, it’s not “ironic” that “Barbara moved from California to New York, where she ended up meeting and falling in love with a fellow Californian.” The fact that they’re both from California is a "coincidence." "Irony" is the incongruity in a series of events between the expected results and the actual results. "Coincidence" is a series of events that appear planned when they’re actually accidental. So, it would be "ironic" if “Barbara moved from California to New York to escape California men, but the first man she ended up meeting and falling in love with was a fellow Californian.”

Nauseous

Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.


If you’re looking for a practical, quick guide to proper grammar, I suggest the tried-and-true classic The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. A few of these examples are listed in the book, and there are plenty more. Good luck!


Want to take your writing to the next level? Check out our slate of online workshops.

Image of The Elements of Style (4th Edition)
Author: William Strunk, E. B. White
Price: $15.15
Publisher: Longman (1999)
Binding: Hardcover, 105 pages
Jon Gingerich

Column by Jon Gingerich

Jon Gingerich is editor of O'Dwyer's magazine in New York. His fiction has been published in literary journals such as The Oyez Review, Pleiades, Helix Magazine, as well as The New York Press, London’s Litro magazine, and many others. He currently writes about politics and media trends at www.odwyerpr.com. Jon holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. Some of his published fiction can be found at www.jongingerich.com.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

GuidScotsTongue's picture
GuidScotsTongue March 1, 2012 - 4:10pm

Oh well, this is such fun. I'd like people to realise that the nautical expression "under way" does not mean the same as "begun".

"Launched" would be better for "begun". A vessel is under way when it is moving fast enough to respond to the helm, or the rudder if you prefer. Until then, in the old days, you had to rely on the strong arms in the longboat.

Then there's the fact that the useful terms "starboard" and "port", meaning the right or left side of the vessel, to a person looking forward in it, and ignored in places where they would be useful, like a subway train. "doors opening on the right" would be more precise if it were "doors opening to staboard".

GuidScotsTongue's picture
GuidScotsTongue March 1, 2012 - 4:11pm

I, too, detest "different than". You can have more than, or less than, but neither "equal than" nor "unequal than".

Peyton Farquhar's picture
Peyton Farquhar March 1, 2012 - 7:09pm

A grammar nazi after my own heart...Great article.  Lots of jumpstarts here to get the cobwebbed synapses firing. 

Anne's picture
Anne from New York March 2, 2012 - 1:02pm

Very much appreciated your article.  Forwarding it to my more grammatically challenged friends and relations.

One suggestion:  I find it helpful to remember that "less" refers to amounts, which don't necessarily have to be hypothetical, (e.g., "I'd prefer less sugar in my tea"), whereas "fewer" refers to numbers.

lkunz78's picture
lkunz78 March 2, 2012 - 2:11pm

I love the references to alcholism, porn and Planned Parenthood.  I registered just to tell you that.  Hilarious.

mnemophobe's picture
mnemophobe March 6, 2012 - 11:12am

The Language Log linguists have written extensively on the "which" vs. "that" distinction, and the short version is that you're simply wrong — using "which" as a restrictive modifier is absolutely not grammatically incorrect. Here's a collection of links to posts by Language Log contributors, persuasively obliterating the alleged viability of this "rule":

http://arnoldzwicky.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/whichthat/

amanda's picture
amanda March 7, 2012 - 3:51am

Very informative; thanks. What about oblige and obligate?

tammyh's picture
tammyh March 7, 2012 - 4:27pm

Although I enjoyed this article and found it helpful, I think the example used in the last sentence, was a really bad one. e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.

What could you have been thinking in using such an inappropriate example? I found it incredibly offensive.

dcookie's picture
dcookie March 7, 2012 - 9:15pm

Well, I think I agree with Wikipedia on the "moot" usage:

"In American law, a matter is moot if further legal proceedings with regard to it can have no effect, or events have placed it beyond the reach of the law. Thereby the matter has been deprived of practical significance or rendered purely academic."  In other words, the issue is settled, no sense in discussing it any more.

The example given in the article coincides more closely with the alternative ordinary British meaning of "debateable" as mentioned in the same article.

I've always used "moot" to mean the point isn't worth discussing, it's already been decided.

Chris Wheal's picture
Chris Wheal March 9, 2012 - 12:01am

There is another: "Like" and "such as". "Like" makes comparisons and "such as" introduces examples. "Like" efectively excludes because is saying things similar to but not exactly the same as.

 So when you wrote

Words like “rather” and “faster” are comparative adjectives

You should have used "such as" instead of "like".

Jamie Lee Curcio's picture
Jamie Lee Curcio March 9, 2012 - 1:52pm

>If there is understanding in a communication, then it is working as language.  Language evolves.  People need to get used to that and stop finding things to feel superior about.  Grammar nazis are the hipsters of linguistics.

I couldn't agree more. Or was that less?

Anyway, yeah. This was a point that Wittgenstein made re: language games, though of course, only a handful of people paid attention and most of them are probably dead. 

fat-al's picture
fat-al from Suffolk is reading Any number of things, all on the Kindle (for the moment) March 12, 2012 - 2:35am

Can I just add the entire sceptic/skeptic thing?  (Not just grammar/ usage, but pronunciation)

It's sceptic - and it's pronounced as in septic. The c is silent.

Drives me mad every time I hear it pronounced with the c/k

churchsec's picture
churchsec March 12, 2012 - 7:07am

Thank your for this helpful article. When we hear words misused over and over, we tend to fall back onto the improper use. I am definately printing this off and keeping it in a handy place.

 

Colin Andrew MacDougall's picture
Colin Andrew Ma... from Suburbia is reading The Brothers Karamazov March 21, 2012 - 9:56am

I love articles like these...I realize a giant mistake I've been making for years, and although feeling a dolt, am now correct in my scribbling. :)

yesjessica's picture
yesjessica from Chicago March 29, 2012 - 1:32pm

I was very interested in this article until I read the "nauseous" part.  It contradicts the first definition in multiple dictionaries!  Shouldn't it be retracted or something to maintain credibility?  It's not true!

drewplaysdrums's picture
drewplaysdrums April 6, 2012 - 6:02am

Ugh. I fall in what is likely an unpopular camp.

Ubiquity + Common Sense > What has always been technically correct.

For instance, Impactful.

1. That promotion had a big impact on our sales and traffic.

2. That promotion was very ________ < using a form of impact] to our traffic.

If 100% of people use "nauseous" to mean being sick, then that is what it means.

Words are sounds and syllables with meanings agreed on and attributed to them. If I have dinner and then say, "I'm feeling rather nauseous after that meal," how many people will argue with me, "No, you're not making ME sick." 

Anyway, most of these are good reminders, but there are some that make little sense.

Bonus: "enamored" 

Ubiquitously, people say enamored by, or enamored with, possibly related to the similarities with the spanish, "en amor 'CON' (with)"

Somehow (nonsensically) the technically correct usage is "enamored OF" something. 

No one I have ever read or spoken with, or listened to (except for the grammar article in which someone was telling the entire world they were "wrong") has ever used it that way. Ever.

Overall good article, just had to throw my two cents in.

Helen Robertson's picture
Helen Robertson April 19, 2012 - 12:37am

I like most of these, and think the article is very useful. You still need to take it with a pinch of salt, though.

For example, I don't think the exposition of "that" and "which" is quite right, "which" with and without a comma is also restrictive/non-restrictive, you do not necessarily have to substitute "that".
And - a hobby-horse of my old boss's - there are never "two or more alternatives", there is only the status quo and the alternative. Two or more options or possibilities, yes. And if he accepts "impact" as a verb, which was anathema about 20 years ago and still is to some people, why object to "impactful"?

Helen Robertson's picture
Helen Robertson April 19, 2012 - 12:38am

I like most of these, and think the article is very useful. You still need to take it with a pinch of salt, though.

For example, I don't think the exposition of "that" and "which" is quite right, "which" with and without a comma is also restrictive/non-restrictive, you do not necessarily have to substitute "that".
And - a hobby-horse of my old boss's - there are never "two or more alternatives", there is only the status quo and the alternative. Two or more options or possibilities, yes. And if he accepts "impact" as a verb, which was anathema about 20 years ago and still is to some people, why object to "impactful"?

Helen Robertson's picture
Helen Robertson April 19, 2012 - 12:38am

I like most of these, and think the article is very useful. You still need to take it with a pinch of salt, though.

For example, I don't think the exposition of "that" and "which" is quite right, "which" with and without a comma is also restrictive/non-restrictive, you do not necessarily have to substitute "that".
And - a hobby-horse of my old boss's - there are never "two or more alternatives", there is only the status quo and the alternative. Two or more options or possibilities, yes. And if he accepts "impact" as a verb, which was anathema about 20 years ago and still is to some people, why object to "impactful"?

Jane Derderian's picture
Jane Derderian April 21, 2012 - 5:20pm

This was apparently very helpful to the well-educated individuals who commented here.  But no wonder people can't get this stuff right.  I consider myself well-educated, read this and am still confused.  Seriously, how many average people know or remember the difference between a subjective, nominative and restrictive pronoun?  Or a transitive verb from an intransative verb?  Nefarious?!  It would be more helpful to the average Joe if you could dummy it down a bit :)

Amcii Cullum's picture
Amcii Cullum from Columbia, SC; now living in Atlanta, GA is reading currently, several source materials for JavaScript and JQuery April 30, 2012 - 2:18am

This will be some vital and well-referred-to knowledge for me in the future.  Thank you for the post.  It was eye-opening in some particular areas of my own personal weaknesses.  There was some, of course, I knew, but that which I did not know threw me back a bit and had an humbling effect.

Chuck Gary's picture
Chuck Gary from Lisbon, Portugal is reading Weather reports May 2, 2012 - 2:51am

I agree with all of Mr. Gingerich's "common mistakes", even if some "mistakes" can become so common they are no longer mistakes, as the language evolves - english is definitely a dynamic, ever evolving "live" language, adapting itself to usage - as long as meanings remain clear to everyone. (And yes, Adrian, there are rules for that, found in books written by scholars that qualify for it with a bit more than mere "enthusiasm"... Most will even agree that common usage may become the rule!)

However, I can't agree that “Since” refers always to time, since it can clearly stand for an effect-cause relation. (from the usage in logic, e.g. "Since we have A, then it follows we have B").

And, since we're at it, even if "since" is used to refer only to time, it could esily substitute "because" in the given example sentence "Because I quit drinking, I no longer wake up in my own vomit." and still remain quite clear and acceptable, specially with an added "ever" before it, to enhance the time relation. The confusion may arise from the fact that people naturally, albeit naively, infer effect-cause relations from time sequenced events, e.g. "Since the woman crossed the river, she became pregnant" will easily become "Beacuse the woman crossed the river, she became pregnant." 

By the way, Jon, might your examples to be used in future articles be a tad less gruesome? I anxiously look forward to more of your colorful examples... in fact I might be having an anxiety attack by then!

All in all, a great and interesting article, thank you, Sir!

Best regards,

Chuck

 

Danny Parker's picture
Danny Parker May 27, 2012 - 2:57pm

thank you for the info

$81.00 In FREE Gifts At ===>>>> http://bit.ly/KgaEMz

hornygamer69's picture
hornygamer69 May 31, 2012 - 11:20am

These are almost all semantic errors

Biskit's picture
Biskit June 1, 2012 - 6:16pm

I must say that this article, although technically correct, assumes that language does not evolve and adapt over time. Literary rules are not static. Word definition is a huge example of this. Grammar and usage aren't exceptions to the constant known as 'change'.

2labz's picture
2labz from USA is reading Gone Girl June 15, 2012 - 5:18am

Ha. Looks like yet another case of the people who don't need the advice finding it, and those who do need the advice assiduously avoiding it while frittering away their lives blathering on their Fadebook walls. 

You must have a larger cohort of literate acquaintances than do I. Not only do many (if not most) of my correspondents misuse "moot," it's rare for me to find the word spelled correctly. Most seem to think it's "mute." Ugh.

senderis's picture
senderis June 19, 2012 - 6:28am

I disagree with your remark about the difference between SINCE and BECAUSE. According to the Heritage dictionary, SINCE does not only refer to time, but also to causation: It means "as a result of the fact that", "inasmuch as".

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from Danville Virginia is reading The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck June 29, 2012 - 5:22am

I completely agree about the horror of using "impact" as a verb unless bowels are the topic, and I hate it when people say "less" when they really mean "fewer." I do think, though, that we can go overboard with the whole grammar police thing. I recall ( and I hope I'm not misquoting here) that invaluable little book, "Revising Prose," by John Lanham. He advises writers to ask this question when they are trying to cut dead weight out of their sentences: "Who's kicking who?" Then he adds in parentheses, "Yes, I know it should be 'whom,' but doesn't that sound pretentious?" I also think we should be mindful that a language, like a shark, must move or die. Now I have to find my red pen so I can circle all the comma splices in my students' latest batch of papers. Bye!

WordNerdGuy's picture
WordNerdGuy July 12, 2012 - 6:13am

Loved this article and found it quite helpful. I would agree that it appears some of these "rules" appear to be more like "preferences," though I have no desire to debate with you. I enjoyed the article, nevertheless, and intend to pass it along to other writers.

jconeys's picture
jconeys July 14, 2012 - 10:54am

These are all really good points, but I just wanted to point out that not all of these are grammar mistakes.  Several are in regards to improper use of a particular definition of a word, especially in relation to vernacular usage as opposed to techinical usage based on literary terminology.  I feel like there is a big distinction between these types of errors.

Llida's picture
Llida July 19, 2012 - 4:12am

Excellent article, Jon. I'll be sure to bookmark it.  What's your take on 'albeit'? I have an undecided relationship with this word and I know many writers have an allergic reaction to it. To use or not to use?

Maren's picture
Maren July 22, 2012 - 9:45pm

Languages are constantly evolving.  You need to read "The Language Instinct," by Steven Pinker.  Grammarians make me nauseous-- yes, that's right nauseous!

Cynthia's picture
Cynthia from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Michigan is reading Biography/Research for Non-Fiction Project relating to Chicago Area Dog Tracks July 27, 2012 - 7:48am

The Miriam Webster dictionary is a poor source.  Any made up or commonly misused word is soon included in the latest edition.  The words "male" and "female" are adjectives, but Miriam Webster defines them as both adjectives and nouns!  The OED is a much better source for word etymology.

jantaylor's picture
jantaylor August 1, 2012 - 3:36pm

Hi,

 

From SAT studies. There was a sentence with subject and verb as follows:

 

Nearly all of the board of directors was in agreement.

 

I thought this ok, but it was marked as incorrect.

 

Jan

Adrian Warren's picture
Adrian Warren August 3, 2012 - 7:30pm

Moot. If the "misuse" is common enough, it is simply a word that has shifted. Ninety-nine percent of the time I hear or read this word, it is used in the way Jon labels misuse. At what point does it simply become a word with two seperate meanings. The only time I, or my professors, have heard of it being used properly is in a legal setting. I think that at this point it is simply a word with a common meaning and a seperate and opposite legal meaning.

Chetter Hùmmin's picture
Chetter Hùmmin August 9, 2012 - 2:24am

The semantic brutality of "irony" used as "coincidence" is all traceable back to Alanis Morisette...what can a catchy tune do to grammar!

Claire Latève's picture
Claire Latève from france is reading zola, again, germinal, nana and so on August 13, 2012 - 6:16am

Thanks for this very interesting article - and to Gutenberg project for selecting it - please excuse my mistakes, being french, I'm trying to learn and improve my feeble skills.

Could someone be nice enough to tell me the meaning of "viz." that I first met in " Moll Flanders " ?

DavidT's picture
DavidT August 23, 2012 - 8:09pm

Your first example is right, but for the wrong reason. (I consulted an attorney whom I met ...") You say it is "whom" because "I consulted him." No, it is whom because "I met him." "Whom is the object of the verb met. The phrase "whom I met in New York" is a modifier of "attorney," not the direct object of the verb.

Starting out this way kind of shook my faith that I'd learn much from what follows. Sorry.

True Romaine Spence's picture
True Romaine Spence August 24, 2012 - 2:42pm

Bump for discussions later.  I don't want to lose this page.

Daclaud Lee's picture
Daclaud Lee September 5, 2012 - 4:46pm

Informative.  I must have forgotten a lot of these differences since high school, but here's a good reminder!

Frank Chiaramonte's picture
Frank Chiaramonte September 12, 2012 - 3:21am

fucking idiot... making a grammar nazi post and saying "couldn't care less" and also fucking up the title.  you are a failure.  kill yourself you fucking idiot.  moot means that the controversy has been resolved and there is no longer a legal question to be determined by the courts.  mootness is a doctrine that REALLY EXISTS in courts today and it functions opposite to your assertion.  you are a fucking idiot.  grammar nazis like you are always the stupidest people.  language is formed by people and using archaic rules to try and put yourself above people ignores what language is.  and then when you break rules (which/that) are even more obvious and important than the ones that you're defending you look like (and are) a fucking idiot.  kill yourself.  BLOG ON!

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade September 14, 2012 - 12:10am

Wow. More than six months and 192 comments later, and still no follow-up article on grammar and/or semantics...

Where Is The Follow-up Article, Jon?!?

(to the most "popular" content of the magazine???)

rhadin's picture
rhadin September 18, 2012 - 2:51am

Interesting article but, alas, far from error-free :). Rules of grammar serve an important purpose (aside from whether they should be applied flexibly or inflexibly): Grammar sets the parameters of communication to ensure that particpants to a conversation are not speaking (writing) past each other. Grammar is the framework for communication.

For example, there are good reasons for the rules of punctuation. Does it matter whether we read "eats shoots and leaves" or "eats, shoots, and leaves"? The words are the same, the meaning is not.

As for the misuse of words in your list, your explanations only have limited validity. Consider moot. In fact, moot does imply superfluousness. Although it does mean open to debate, it also means irrelevant and of no practical importance, which are synonyms for superfluous. Although I agree about the distinction between since and because, since has been accepted as synonymous with because for many decades.Simply saying it isn't so doesn't make it not so.

The problem with declaring may and might as misused is that what separates the correctness of their use is a matter of speculation. It is very difficult to definitively declare that use of one or the other is clearly wrong.

Missing from your list, and far more problematical, are the misuse of the pairs while and although and its and it's.

While thinking about your article and my response, I noted that you make the common error of avoiding the hyphen in compound adjectives. As is the case with punctuation, the hyphen in a compound adjective (or its absence) affects meaning, with the effect of enhancing either communication or miscommunication.

Jennifer John's picture
Jennifer John September 18, 2012 - 8:38pm

Nice Guide about <a href="http://toefl-edu.blogspot.com/2010/06/top-twenty-essay-mistakes.html">Top Twenty essay Mistakes</a>

Marilyn Levinson's picture
Marilyn Levinson September 19, 2012 - 7:59am

A wonderful collection of grammar rules. Thanks for the article, Jon.

lgjhere's picture
lgjhere September 23, 2012 - 9:49am

Nice info! A great new book that explores the struggles of immigrants is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it even has chapters on English grammar and speech that identify problems common to immigrants (and Americans!) and how they can polish their communication skills. Why is English such a monster to learn? Here's an excerpt from the book: "As you may know, English grammar rules are full of generalities and the generalities are full of exceptions. Even the exceptions have exceptions. This is why English is one of the most difficult languages to master. In fact, a recent European study discovered that most children master the basic elements of their languages within a year or less of starting primary school. However, English speaking children require two to three years of learning to reach the same level. Why? Linguists believe it’s the complex syllable structure (a single-sound unit in our words) and the inconsistent spellings, both of which we address in this and the next chapter." www.AmericaAtoZ.com

lgjhere's picture
lgjhere September 23, 2012 - 9:49am

Nice info! A great new book that explores the struggles of immigrants is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it even has chapters on English grammar and speech that identify problems common to immigrants (and Americans!) and how they can polish their communication skills. Why is English such a monster to learn? Here's an excerpt from the book: "As you may know, English grammar rules are full of generalities and the generalities are full of exceptions. Even the exceptions have exceptions. This is why English is one of the most difficult languages to master. In fact, a recent European study discovered that most children master the basic elements of their languages within a year or less of starting primary school. However, English speaking children require two to three years of learning to reach the same level. Why? Linguists believe it’s the complex syllable structure (a single-sound unit in our words) and the inconsistent spellings, both of which we address in this and the next chapter." www.AmericaAtoZ.com

Steven Zore's picture
Steven Zore from Brooklyn, New York October 16, 2012 - 3:06am

According to the 4rth definition of the Oxford-English Dictionary, Moot= Argument; an action at law; a plea; accusation.

I've been misusing this phrase... THANX! great piece.

madc0w's picture
madc0w October 16, 2012 - 7:56pm

Amen to all that, and might I suggest adding one more?  I hereby nominate "incredibly" as most overused malapropism of the century.  This word means "beyond belief", not "amazingly", "surprisingly", "remarkably", or even "very".  A wide assortment of words exists that may be used for emphasis, and, like many such malapropisms, this one is just not it.

Also... am I the only one who shutters every time I hear a split infinitive?  Yeah?  OK, just checking.

 

Michael Mantion's picture
Michael Mantion October 30, 2012 - 3:34pm

i luv anoyng gramar natzis'......